2013-11-15 / Community Events

DOD initiatives battle sexual assault in military

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

New Defense Department initiatives to combat sexual assault helped create a 46 percent jump in victims reporting the crimes compared to this time last year, a senior DOD official testified last week.

Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, director of DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, reported on DOD’s recent prevention and awareness successes before the Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel.

The fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act mandated an independent panel to make recommendations to Congress to stop military sexual assault in a report due in June 2014.

Patton’s testimony informed the panel of DOD’s progress, such as the significant increase in victim reporting over the past year.

“In light of the historic under-reporting of this crime in both military and civilian sectors,” Patton said, “we assess the increase in victim reports in FY13 to be a strong indicator of increased victim confidence, due to a combination of things we have been doing across the department, namely: improved victim support services, sustained leader emphasis and service member awareness, and enhanced legal and investigative capabilities.”

Increased reporting “ means more victims are getting the necessary health care, more reports means a bridge to more cases being investigated by law enforcement and more offenders being held accountable,” he said.

Patton presented a series of metrics to the panel to show how DOD is assessing and improving its SAPRO resources, including 16 new initiatives unveiled this year, said Army Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson, DOD spokeswoman for personnel and readiness.

Wilkinson said the initiatives positively impacted DOD’s SAPRO program by strengthening accountability, education and gaining “unprecedented” senior leader attention.

Patton echoed that point to the panel.

“We want commanders more involved in solving this problem of sexual assault in the military, not less involved,” Patton said.

Wilkinson pointed out that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meets every week with SAPRO and military service officials on improving initiatives to end sexual assault in the military.

“He is very interested in solving this problem,” she said, adding that while the NDAA gave the panel 18 months to present its findings to Congress, Hagel shortened the timeline to 12 months to more quickly put in place any changes the panel identifies.

“We have a very victimcentered program, so we want to make sure victims have confidence in [DOD]. We want to strengthen our prevention and our response programs,” Wilkinson said.

The trust victims are putting into DOD’s SAPRO resources and confidential reporting avenues is evident by the significant number of service members who report sexual assaults that occurred before they entered the military, Wilkinson said.

“We see that as a big sign of confidence in our system,” she added.

DOD has put in place initiatives that proved to be effective in the military services.

“[DOD] is taking the best practices from around the services to make them common practices for the entire force,” Wilkinson said.

These include reforms in the military justice system, having dedicated legal counsel for each victim, increasing senior-leader accountability, conducting a department-wide standdown, and enhancing background checks and credentialing requirements for front-line victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators. Additionally, she said, service members in positions of power and trust such as recruiters, instructors and drill instructors are reviewed.

“[SAPRO] is a very dynamic program. It’s not static, so when we see something to fix in the program, we do it,” Wilkinson said.

“ People have heard about the services and programs that we have for victims, and they are walking in the door to get those services,” Gen. Patton said. ”This is a strong indicator that people have heard our message and believe we are going to take care of them.”

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